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USA's Lysacek beats Russia's Plushenko in figure skating

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Russia versus the United States.

The Canadians snickered. Their troublemaking neighbors were at it again.

Figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, he of the blond mullet, does indeed hail from the Russian Federation.

And his prime competitor headed into Thursday night's Olympic men's figure skating finals, Evan Lysacek, is from the suburbs of Chicago.

But that is so 1962.

The story on this night was the future. Skating with steely focus and confident preparation, Lysacek dethroned Plushenko — by a score of 257.67 to 256.36 — to win the Olympic gold medal.

Coming into the night, Lysacek's Olympic mountain to climb wasn't Plushenko's Russianness, but rather the 2006 gold medalist's cavalier attitude toward the proceedings.

Plushenko knows he is still good — he certainly was in Tuesday's short program — and the judges had better get with it.

As he said after the short program, "I don't care today about the transitions or the scoring system. I care I did a clean program."

He was dismissing the alleged only two roadblocks to his well-chronicled comeback. The judges, they say, don't like his footwork.

Yet, Lysacek was the one in second place going into Thursday's free skate.

His credentials already were golden. He is the reigning world champion. But in the back of his mind, he gave evidence this week that he still harbors the bitter memory of what happened to him in Turin, when Lysacek was bothered by nerves and a stomach virus and placed 10th after the short program.

"There was a monkey on my back from Torino four years ago," he said after Tuesday's competition.

He recovered in Turin to finish fourth. But Plushenko earned the gold medal. Lysacek has left no doubts that he respects Plushenko for that.

But the Russian wears his resume like a feather boa. To come out of a three-year retirement and expect to regain his golden form — not even Brett Favre would do that.

So goes figure skating, however, where the personalities and the preparations and the queasy stomachs are all out there to see, just like the outfits.

To appreciate men's figure skating, you have to look past the outfits to the athleticism. And anybody who thinks there's no athleticism in the sport couldn't have been watching Lysacek on Tuesday night.

In another world, maybe they would ban the sequins, the feathers and the guys' plunging necklines, and the male figure skaters would all start dressing like Dick Button again. They'd wear some J.C. Penney slacks, with a bowtie and a little jacket that says, "USA" or "Soviet Union" across the back.

The breezy outfits, frankly, are distracting on the guys. But I think I'm preaching to the wrong choir.

What we saw from Lysacek in Thursday's free skating program was at the same athletic level as Tuesday's performance.

Some might have only seen black feathers Tuesday, but I saw an athlete who was thoroughly well-prepared by his esteemed coach (Frank Carroll, Michelle Kwan's former mentor) and who was perfectly focused. It was the kind of performance you expect to see at an Olympic Games.

And then Lysacek took the ice Thursday and nailed it again.

Same level of concentration. Same choreography. Same confidence because Carroll had prepared him perfectly.

No, Lysacek's jumps may not be what you're accustomed to from watching the lithe bodies in women's figure skating. Lysacek is 6-foot-2 and looks like a defensive back, not a ballerina.

And, no, he didn't have a quadruple jump — as Plushenko did — to throw into the scoring mix.

But his jumps were clean and quick. His footwork was confident. He finished with a spinning flourish, and he seemed to know that he had done it — chased away the monkey, if not the golden prize.

Lysacek was pumping his fist in affirmation before he ever stopped spinning.

Five spots later came Plushenko. The Russian with the haughty attitude.

Call it a Cold War, if you like.

There's a new Olympic champion.

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